Lunchbox/Soapbox: Nina Funnell on the Teen Sexting Panic
Through century upon century, societies have located much of their moral panic and hysteria around a victimised view of youth. Whether it’s generational or technological change, the shock of the new has often been seen as deeply threatening to the moral fabric or the vulnerable, naïve individual. But is this fair? Nina Funnell questions the extent to which the discourse around protecting children is really about controlling, policing and pathologising them.
Funnell demonstrates, through an analysis of media surrounding the phenomenon of so-called ‘sexting’, that the popular reporting of physically candid image sharing is based on inaccurate and heavily gendered assumptions about victimisation and self-expression. Further, she shows that the consequences and repercussions of sexting have been exaggerated or misreported, particularly in cases ending in teen suicide.
Additionally, by consensually producing and sharing nude or semi-nude pictures of their peers, many young people might inadvertently find themselves prosecuted under child porn laws and placed on the sex offender registry alongside mature-aged paedophiles and rapists. When this occurs, the breaches of privacy leading to such discoveries tend to be overlooked.
Rather than fuelling a risk-averse society driven by paranoia around child protection, Funnell suggests a gentler approach. Education should address the ethical as well as legal reasons not to share or circulate private images, she argues, and this education must take into account the ideas and choices of the young people it aims to advise.
Nina Funnell is a freelance writer whose columns have been published in The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Brisbane Times and The Australian.